/ Technology

Google’s instant gratification for short attention spans

Woman's hands typing on white laptop

How are your web searches going today? Quick? Easy? Is that how you got to this page? Did you Google, or are you one of the few who Bing? Well, Google Instant is about to pander to our ever decreasing attention spans.

Search is big business, and for no company more so than Google. So when it unveiled its latest revolution in search engine technology earlier today, the world sat up and took notice.

Google Instant looks at what you’re typing into its ubiquitous search box and then predicts what you’re trying to find. So start typing and watch as the search results change in real time.

Auto-prediction for short attention spans

But is this just another way of pandering to our ever-shortening attention spans and thirst for instant gratification? No longer do you have to type the full phrase you’re searching for, or even press the ‘search’ button.

Searching under Google’s new regime means you can change your search as you type, based on the results appearing. And it’s strangely hypnotic watching the number of results decreasing as you type.

Your time is precious and Google knows it. By auto-predicting what it thinks you might be searching for, you’ll shave precious seconds off each and every search you make. Multiply that by the thousands of times you Google each year, and you might have recouped enough time to, erm, comment on this blog post.

But as with many of Google’s products, the dark side is never lurking far away. To use Google Instant you’ll need to be logged into your Google account (at least for anywhere other than in the US). And rather than relying on pure magic to work out what you might be searching for, the Google servers will use all the data they already have about your search habits to conjure up their predictions.

Instant gratification for advertisers too?

And there’s already some confusion over how this search shake-up affects the companies that pay for Google advertising. If you type “a” into Google Instant and get instant suggestions for “argos, amazon, asda and asos” how many search results, sites and ads will you miss out on?

And given that many people, myself included, have jobs that involve getting click throughs from Google – largely based on getting to the top of the search results pages – could today be a landmark in the relatively short history of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Possibly not. For starters, a large proportion of people don’t have Google accounts. Many of those that do won’t be signed in when searching. And many more will be searching using other methods – the built-in browser search bars in Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google’s Chrome, for example.

At this stage, all we can be certain of is that Google Instant could mark a fundamental change in how we search. Let’s hope it turns out to be a change for the better.


Ah, that’s why my search pages keep changing as I type. Didn’t realise this was what it was. Actually found it rather irritating, to be honest! But then that’s me!

I type too fast for Google Instant.

But what I do find interesting is the advertising side of things – people are going to see brands that they most likely wouldn’t have before.

For example, if you wanted to search for ‘Which food should I eat?’, Which? wouldn’t be on the first page, but on Google Instant it will be from the letters ‘Whi’ all the way to ‘Which food’.

Let’s see how this pans out.

I wonder what this will do to advertising costs. I go to great lengths to make sure the Google ads (AdWords) only appear when we want them to. For example we don’t show ads for premium/luxury services if the searcher uses the word ‘cheap’ in their search. Now the ads are appearing based on Google’s assumptions – so there is a definite risk that the wrong people will see and click on our ads. it looks like there might be a lot more (unwanted) advertising traffic after this change.

It will also be interesting to see how the search is recorded/tracked – normally we can see which search led to a sale, or conversely led to a very short visit. That allows us to concentrate our ad spend in the most profitable areas. I wonder if the ‘assumed’ search will be recorded, or the partially complete search. Time for some testing …

Donna Hill says:
12 September 2010

Good point Patrick. Although why would many brands wouldn’t feel the need to advertise against irrelevant copy, because the idea of search based advertising is the quality of click,
against users actually looking for related products.
Personally I love the way that google masquerades behind the notion that this is for consumer benefit, when in fact it is really just to make more money by ensuriung that all search text/character are now commercialised rather than just full keywords – even typos!. Advertisers now have to have a presence against all the characters of the keyword rather than the full word just to ensure they will be seen and clearly this will increase the cost of the bid and broaden the amount of words they have to bid against.
To be fair to Google, it is very clever but the fact that it is not user friendly doesn’t suggest it is better for the consumer. Just them!

rubbish! i love it

Google is going to find a lot of people switch to the every powerful Microsoft Bing which offers greater relevancy and none of the instant quick hit variety of search. Bing for example is like a good Jack Daniels, it takes it time; and 3 to 4 rehashed searches to return better results.